IN CONVERSATION: Soimadou Ibrahim on "In Deeds and Gestures"

by Emilie El Jaouhari

 Soimadou Ibrahim in his studio, Image courtesy of the artist 


From 19 May to 16 June 2023, WOAW Gallery Central will showcase In Deeds and Gestures, first solo exhibition in Hong Kong by French artist Soimadou Ibrahim, featuring new artworks  representing various natural elements, human relationships and memories, especially from  his childhood country Comoros. 
Soimadou Ibrahim was born in Paris, France, in 1989, but grew up in Itsinkoudi, a remote  village in Comoros, an archipelago located in Southeast Africa between Madagascar and  Mozambique. At the age of ten, he moved back to France, leaving most of his family in  Comoros, and settled in a small town in Brittany, where art started to play an important part  in his life. 
Since as long as I can remember, images, compositions, shapes and colours have  interested me and I’ve always questioned how they can fit together in different forms. 
 Soimadou Ibrahim, In Deeds and Gestures, 2023 (Close Up)
Adolescent, filled with interrogation about his own French identity, he turned to his African  roots and his strong sense of community as inspiration for his creative work, expressing  memories of his missing loved ones and Comoros landscapes, while also exploring the  environment he was evolving in after leaving his childhood country. 
Ibrahim holds a Master’s degree in Graphic Design and, naturally, he first began exploring his  ideas digitally. 
But soon, I realised that I could take my background and knowledge from ‘the screen’  and transfer it to the canvas. (…) Being able to explore a physical practice was very  appealing to me. 
Mostly, but not only, inspired by Comoros, Ibrahim doesn’t like to limit himself: I am inspired by everyday life, people, travel; inspiration can be found everywhere, he says. 
  Soimadou Ibrahim, The Meeting, 2023 (Close Up)
By painting portraits of the people he loves in various settings, including the landscapes of the Comoros Islands, along with imaginary elements that reflect their personalities, Ibrahim aims  to convey the joy of finding happiness in the simple pleasures of life. His focus on accurately capturing each individual's unique characteristics is what drives him, as it allows him to stay true to his identity and connected to his roots, no matter how far from home he may be.
In the beginning, painting was almost a form of therapy for me; remembering the traits  of family members who live in Comoros and, in doing so, feeling closer to them, in some  way. 
I tend to paint people I know or those who I’m close to, but sometimes it can be  someone or something that has had an impact on me, by chance. I always aim to  express the personality by exploring the individual’s features and bringing them to life. 
The foundations of his paintings are often based on archival photographs of family and  friends, that he has been collecting for years, thus highlighting the importance of relationships and the need to preserve timeless memories. 
 Soimadou Ibrahim, Baller, 2023 (Close Up)
When asked about his creative process and techniques, Ibrahim explains how he enjoys  working on paper – the playful and unpredictable way the acrylic ink connects to the paper –  before choosing the surface to paint that would best capture a particular feeling and bring a  certain intended mood. 
The process becomes fun after I’ve spent quite some time doing the sketch, taking care  to ensure the proportions are accurate. And then I paint. I really like to be in the  moment, having no pressure and letting myself flow freely. I think it’s only by being in  this state that you can create something authentic.  
Ibrahim’s studies in graphic design have undeniably determined his practice, allowing him to  have a kind of rational and design way of thinking when preparing the sketch and playing with  elements and forms. He has also been impacted by abstract artists like American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, Cuban-American visual artist Carmen Herrera and German artist Imi  Knoebel. 
He has also been inspired by other contemporary artists, such as American painter Henry Taylor, British painter Hurvin Anderson, and British painter and curator Lubaina Himid.  
Taylor’s brushstrokes, Anderson’s colours and Himid’s composition all play a part in the way I paint. 
Besides, other elements have influenced his creative journey, such as music and poetry: I tend  to listen to a lot of Malian music, including artists Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, he explains. 
Soimadou IbrahimBirds of Teranga, 2023 (Close Up)
In his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, In Deeds and Gestures, Ibrahim is calling attention to  the act of giving and receiving, a two-way type of love. He is reflecting on the importance of  connection, care and nurturing, whether it is human relationships, with nature, or amongst  wildlife. 
Reaching and maintaining this harmonious balance of giving and receiving is  wholeheartedly dependent on everything we do as human beings. We must, therefore,  consciously nurture these connections amongst each other and with nature, in order, for life on both sides, to prosper; a positive karma, you could say.
Soimadou IbrahimBirds of Teranga, 2023 (Close Up)
For instance, in his artworks, the blue-bellied roller, a bird commonly found in different parts  of Africa, serves as a symbol of freedom and exploration. While the birdwatcher, another significant emblematic figure, illustrates the importance of paying attention to the natural  world around us and connecting with the environment.  
The exhibition will be for Ibrahim the occasion to visit Hong Kong for the first time. He has  chosen his artworks for the show based on his perception of the city where, like in all major  hubs, space tends to be limited and the presence of nature or wildlife is often embraced.  
Additionally, in Comorian culture, family and food go hand in hand, and I sense this is  the case in Asian families too. I also think the pandemic proved the importance of these  connections for our wellbeing, so I chose the paintings based on the concept of these  elements.  
Finally, when asked how he would describe his artworks in five adjectives, Ibrahim says: Vivid, Honest, Personal, Subtle, Playful
 In Deeds and Gestures, by Soimadou Ibrahim
19 May – 16 June 2023 
WOAW Gallery Central 
The Galleria, 9 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong